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Strasbourg strikes back

Politico – 10/12/15 – Maïa de la Baume

New campaign aims to make French city the European Parliament’s sole seat.
When most members of the European Parliament say the assembly needs a “single seat,” they’re usually talking about Brussels, and arguing that it makes no sense to travel to Strasbourg for just four days of voting and debating per month. Now a group of politicians are turning that argument on its head with a campaign to make Strasbourg the Parliament’s sole headquarters. They are undaunted by arguments that the Parliament’s trips to Strasbourg are a waste of money, time and energy. And they see a potential weakness in the argument that Brussels should be the Parliament’s single seat: the revelation last month that the assembly’s Brussels headquarters building is badly in need of repairs.

Later this month a task force of about 20 French MEPs and other officials will launch “Strasbourg — The Seat” in a bid move the European Parliament to the Alsatian city for good. The woman behind the campaign is Catherine Trautmann, a former French MEP and ex-mayor of Strasbourg, who is convinced that moving the headquarters and staff to her city will result in a “change of governance” in the European Parliament.“It is time now to give a political dimension to the seat question,” Trautmann said in an interview, “because today many people question the objectives, the efficiency and the interests of these European institutions.

According to the somewhat confusing language of the EU treaties, Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament, but Brussels is home to most of its permanent staff and committees and hosts several plenary sessions a year. The dual citizenship means that up to 10,000 people must travel 12 times a year from Brussels to Strasbourg to debate and vote on legislation. The current, two-seat situation is deeply unpopular with most MEPs and has spurred several efforts to end it. Parliamentarians complain that long travel times to Strasbourg — more than five hours by train from Brussels and often several flight connections from their constituencies — are wasteful and expensive. The additional cost to the EU of maintaining two parliamentary seats  — one of which sits empty most of the time — is estimated at an €180 million per year.

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